Managing Migraines: tips for survival
Migraines can severely affect a person’s quality of life. They may even stop you from carrying out your normal daily activities. Find out more about managing migraines.
What are migraines?
A migraine is usually a moderate or severe headache which feels like intense throbbing pain on the one side of the head. This feeling may get worse as you continue through the day. NHS figures show that migraines affect around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men. Managing migraines can be difficult as they can occur at any time during the day, though they often start in the morning.
Migraine sufferers may also experience other symptoms; such as nausea and vomiting, increased sensitivity to light or sound, difficulty concentrating, abdominal pain, sweating and feeling very hot or cold. Some people suffer from migraines up to seven times a week, whilst others may only have a migraine occasionally.
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they’re thought to be the result of temporary changes in chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
Types of migraines
There are several types of migraines that an individual may experience:
Migraine with aura – This is where the individual will experience warning signs just before the migraine begins. Warning signs may include seeing flashing lights or blind spots.
Migraine without aura – The migraine will start without any warning signs.
Migraine aura without a headache – Where other symptoms of a migraine are experienced but a headache does not develop. This is known as a silent headache.
Stages of a migraine
Migraines often develop in stages, although some may not experience this.
The pre-headache stage: Just before the headache occurs, a person may notice changes in their mood, behaviour, energy levels and appetite. This can occur several days or hours before an attack. Visual problems will start to occur; such as seeing flashes of light or blind spots. This usually goes away after an hour.
Headache stage: The headache hits and feels like a pulsating or throbbing pain on one side of the head. Other symptoms at this stage may include nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light. This stage can last for 4-72 hours.
Resolution stage: The intense headache and other symptoms have now gradually disappeared, although the individual may feel tired for a few days afterwards.
If you experience frequent or severe migraine symptoms, you should speak to your GP who can recommend preventive treatments or strategies for managing migraines.
How to manage a migraine
There is currently no cure for a migraine, although several treatments are available to help manage some of the symptoms.
People who suffer from migraines can buy over-the-counter relief such as paracetamol and aspirin. It’s advised not to wait until the headache worsens before taking pain killers, as this is often too late for the medication to work. Taking pain killers at the first sign of a migraine attack allows time for the medication to absorb into the bloodstream and ease symptoms.
During an attack:
Most people find that sleeping or lying in a darkened room is the best thing to do when experiencing a migraine attack. Others find that eating something helps, or that they start to feel better once they have been sick.
Applying a cold compress can provide a numbing effect and help reduce the pain. Others may prefer using a hot compress, as the heat can help relax tense muscles.
When an individual is experiencing intense pain, it can be difficult to think clearly, and they may become stressed and anxious, which can make the migraine worse. Relaxation techniques can help alleviate some of the symptoms.
Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness is all about taking time to think and be in the present moment. Mindfulness can help reduce pain, as it distracts the mind. It can be difficult getting mindfulness right, and you may have to practice it a few times to find it beneficial. To start practicing mindfulness, place yourself in a quiet room, focus on your breathing and clarify your intentions.
Massaging your temples: A massage allows your tense muscle to relax. To do this, simply rub your temples in a circular motion.
Lavender: Smelling lavender is known to help people relax. Some people may prefer to drink a lavender tea or use lavender essential oils.
Several combination medicines can be purchased from a local pharmacy without a prescription. These medicines contain both pain killers and anti-sickness medicines. A pharmacist can advise you on which to take if you have any concerns.
Acupuncture can be beneficial when medicines are unsuitable or do not help to prevent migraines. Evidence suggests a course of up to 10 sessions over a 5-8-week period may reduce symptoms.
Preventing a migraine
It’s suggested that the best way to prevent a migraine is by recognising possible triggers and monitoring whether medication has helped. Some people like to keep a diary and note down all the details of their migraine. This can include when an attack happens, how it feels and what medication they took.
Drinking plenty of water can help prevent a migraine, as dehydration is known to be a common trigger.
Medicines and supplements:
Triptans: A specific painkiller for migraines. They work by reversing the changes in the brain that may cause migraines. Triptans cause the blood vessels around the brain to narrow. This reverses the widening of blood vessels that’s believed to be a part of the migraine process.
Topiramate: A medicine originally developed to prevent seizures. Studies show that topiramate can help to prevent migraines.
Propranolol: A medicine traditionally used to treat angina and high blood pressure. Propranolol has been shown to effectively prevent migraines.
Amitriptyline: A medicine originally designed to treat depression but has proven useful in helping prevent migraines.
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Support with managing migraines
No one should suffer with a migraine in silence. There are a few organisations that offer support and advice for people with migraines. The Migraine Trust is a patient focused charity who fund research, provide evidence-based information and support people affected by migraines in the UK.